Posted by: Marie | January 26, 2011

(500) The power of words – Part 1 of 2

Post #500
[Private journal entry written on Wednesday, September 8, 2010]

Today was a therapy session day . . .

Prior to the session, I emailed Edward my status report. In the email, I mentioned I would like to talk to him about “a situation that came up with a client that involved setting boundaries”. I indicated I would like to get his input on the situation as to how effectively I handled it.

I also mentioned in my status report that I had experienced an “eye opening conversation” with my eldest sister that validated some of my more hardcore memories of my parents. I told him I’d like to spend a few minutes reviewing that conversation with him.

So, we started out the session with those two agenda items – first addressing the situation that had occurred with Father Jim. I asked Edward to read through my journal entries concerning Father Jim, which he did. When he finished reading, he asked . . .

Edward: Are you pleased with the ultimate outcome?

Me: I am pleased with how things ultimately worked out. I am pleased that I protected myself against having to hug someone I didn’t want to hug even if it meant losing out on some business. I’m mostly wondering if I could have handled it differently – better – more effectively.

Photo by Martin Chen

Edward: If you had been as effective as possible, in what way would the outcome have been different?

Me: I don’t know that the outcome would have been different.

I don’t think he would ever agree to not hug me. For whatever reason, he is not willing to take responsibility for keeping his hands and his body to himself. So, I don’t think the relationship could have been saved. But, I’m wondering if I could have protected myself more effectively. I don’t like that I ended up telling him the details of my history.

Edward: So, why did you disclose that much information?

Me: Because I thought he would be more empathetic and cooperative if he understood the reasons behind my boundary. I thought it was unreasonable for me to expect him to “just know” why the boundary is so important to me.

There was no way I was willing to allow him to bring fear into my studio – my sanctuary – by pressuring me to hug him when I don’t want to hug him.

(The thought of Father Jim crowding me – causing me to feel trapped – was very triggering for me and I started getting emotional. It took a minute for me to catch my breath again and to be able to continue.)

Edward: Do you think he would be more likely to honor your boundary if he thought you have good reasoning behind it?

Me: Yeah, I do. I’m used to people – my dad, the guy I married, etc. – telling me that my sensitivities are “silly” and unimportant. Sometimes I have been able to get them to be careful of my sensitivities after I explained why some things bother me so much.

Edward: Do you think people should honor your boundaries only when they believe your reasons for setting the boundary are important and valid?

Me: No, I think they should honor my boundaries regardless.

Edward: So why did you try to convince Father Jim your boundary is important and valid? Why didn’t you simply insist he honor it regardless?

Me: Oh . . . I see . . . hmmmm . . . . wow . . .

I guess because I hadn’t realized that’s what I was doing. But, now that you have said that, I can see how I don’t have an obligation to give reasons or to convince people to see things my way.

On the other hand . . . when I’m in a dating relation or a co-habitation situation and the other person expresses a preference or a boundary, I usually want more information. I usually want to better understand what is underneath the matter so that I can follow the spirit of his or her wishes, not just the letter.

And, I want to know how big of a deal it is . . . is it an annoyance or is it a deal-breaker? If it is a really big deal, I will probably go above and beyond what he or she has requested because I want to steer clear of causing problems on any level, even when it is difficult for me to do. If it is just an annoyance, I know I can toe the line a bit more – when I need to – without causing huge issues.

Edward: When you want more information, do you ask for it?

Me: Well, yes, of course!

Edward: Do you think other people – for example, Father Jim – will ask for more information when they want it – when it might make a difference in their behavior?

Me: That has not been my experience. Most people with whom I closely associate won’t seek out more information; I have to hand it to them, maybe even push it onto them.

Edward: Is that what you did with Father Jim?

Me: (Small laugh) Yeah, I did. And that is not necessarily effective . . .

Edward: When you have pushed information on people, has it made the situation better?

Me: Not usually.

Edward: Why do you think that is?

Me: Probably because I have been closely associating with people who are not interested in honoring my boundaries.

Edward: How can you change that?

Me: (Another small laugh as the puzzle pieces started coming together) Choose different associates . . .

Edward: (With a slight grin) Yeah, that would work.

Me: So . . . can we look at the situation with Father Jim specifically? I mean, this is a situation in which I was not looking for a close association. I was looking for a clear-cut business association. Recognizing that it is not appropriate to disclose intimate details of my personal life to a purely business associate, how could I have set and protected my boundary without disclosing those details?

Edward: Sure, we can look at this situation specifically . . .

May I tell you what underlying message I saw as I read your journal entries?

Me: Sure!

Edward: I heard you saying that you didn’t want to do business with him.

Me: That is true.

Edward: So why didn’t you simply decline to do business with him?

Me: Because I didn’t yet have a good reason. He didn’t give me a good reason until late into the conversation.

Edward: I disagree. Let me read to you what you wrote in your very first journal entry: “. . . my gut says I shouldn’t quite trust him to be aware and observant of my organic boundaries.” You said that about him before you ever wrote that first email to him. That is a very good reason to not do business with someone.

Me: Hmmmm . . . but how do I explain to him my reason for declining to do business with him? Do I say to his face, “I don’t like you” or “I don’t trust you”? That doesn’t seem like a good way to do business, especially when he hasn’t actually done anything “bad” yet.

Edward: You could say, “After meeting with you and reviewing our mutual needs and expectations, I have come to the conclusion we are not a good fit for each other. I’d be happy to provide a list of other piano teachers in the area with whom you could interview.”

Me: Wow. You can do that? I mean, does that meet the reasonable person standard?

Edward: Sure! You have as much of a right to say, “No, thank you” as the client does, and you have no obligation to justify your choice.

Me: Hmmmmm . . . . that really messes with my mind! Had you felt that we were not a good fit after our initial interview, would you have said something like that?

Edward: Absolutely! But, I felt we would be a good fit for each other, so I invited you to join me in establishing a business association. I wanted the opportunity to work with you.

Me: Wow . . . thank you! That makes me feel good!

So, then . . . if Father Jim had come back and asked for more information because he wanted to better understand where I was coming from, how could have I responded? How would I respond without giving out too much information?

Edward: You could provide a general reason like you are currently processing the after affects of abuse . . . and leave it at that. You wouldn’t need to describe what kind of abuse. A general statement would be sufficient information – it would be enough for him to understand the gist and the extent of your need for cooperation.

Me: Okay – that helps. I can see a different way of handling something like this in the future.

[Continued in the next post . . . ]


  1. Looking forward to part 2. Very different to previous sessions but just as engaging in its own way.

    • Hey, Evan –

      I think the thoughtful (logical) parts of the process can be very healing, as well. At least, for me, it is good to have logic to back-up what I have discovered via an emotional path.

      – Marie

  2. Marie,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with Father Jim and what you are learning about boundaries. I have found setting boundaries to be difficult because I’m always too overly concerned about the other person’s feeling – trying to believe they have good intentions. When I think back about how lax I’ve been on boundaries, I realize it has caused me a great deal of anxiety. As I am learning to feel justified in setting them, I realize I feel a lot less anxious or worried.

    Edward sounds like such a great therapist, I’m so glad you found him :)

    I read a post about setting boundaries today that specifically addressed unwanted hugging and thought about your past journal entries. It said:

    “Hugging someone without permission is a boundaries violation, too – a deliberate invasion of that person’s personal space. We do it all the time, don’t we? It’s widely accepted and encouraged. But be warned: many people don’t like it, they may avoid you or reproach you and again: it’s not your intent that matters, it’s the effect the gesture has on the receiver. It technically is a boundaries violation: we have no right to touch another person without their permission.”


    • Hey, OAD –

      I read your post on boundaries . . . you make some really great points there! I think anyone reading it can learn about or at least be reminded of the characteristics of respectful behavior!

      Thank you for all your kind and supportive comments! I am very glad to have found Edward!

      – Marie

  3. Awesome post, great session so far. This is encouraging stuff

    • Thank you, Aaron –

      It was an eye-opener for me . . . kind of like the comments on got on the original “Father Jim” posts!

      – Marie

  4. Totally fantastic. And apart from the situation w/Father Jim, how great is it to just know you can not work with someone because they’re not a good fit? You get to make that choice.

    • Hey, David –

      It is a shift to go from thinking, “I don’t have to let this person grope and kiss me against my will” to “I don’t need to work with this person if I get a weird vibe off him.”

      A whole different ball game . . .

      – Marie

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